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This mom gives 5 tips for talking to your kids about gender identity.

We may want to know their gender or think we need to know their gender to use a pronoun, but it honestly does not matter.

This mom gives 5 tips for talking to your kids about gender identity.

Kids do a lot of embarrassing things.

They pick their noses, they tell everyone waiting in line that mom has jiggly thighs, they throw milk across the room when the mood strikes.

But there is one thing that parents can, and should, stop being embarrassed by. This question: "Is that a boy or a girl?"


Image via iStock.

Most parents will respond to this question the same way my mother did, with a too tight hand squeeze and a "SHHHH!!!" later followed by an explanation that we are not allowed to ask those things.

I never really understood the response, but the message was clear: There is shame around this topic. We don’t talk about that in polite company. You should continue to be confused about this.

Perhaps it is time to consider another way to talk about gender with our kids.

As visibility increases for people all over the gender spectrum with more representation in media and more empowerment in the world, let’s think about wiser ways to approach this. And hey, maybe we could actually answer our kids’ questions about gender, too.

As a sex and sexuality educator and mom of seven, I have had lots of conversations with people all over the gender spectrum. After years of these conversations, I have some tips for how to talk about gender with your kids. Here they are:

1. Gender almost never matters.

There is a gender-nonconforming person who works at a store we go to frequently. Yesterday, I was asked:

"Mommy, is that a boy or a girl?"

"It doesn't matter."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that this person helps us in the store, so we don't need to know if they are a boy or a girl.”

"OK, but, like, when would we need to know?"

"If we were looking for someone to donate sperm or ovaries."

"But that is almost never going to happen."

"And we almost never need to know if someone is a boy or a girl."

Indeed, we almost never need to know the gender of any people. We may want to know their gender or think we need to know their gender to use a pronoun, but it honestly does not matter.

If someone is helping you in a store, you don’t need to know their gender any more than you need to be sure of their race or religion.

2. Every person gets to write their own gender story.

That is it. It is really that simple.

This is not about what you think someone should be, what they look like, or what makes you feel more comfortable. This is about allowing every human the dignity to define themselves in all ways, including gender. If a person decides they identify as a girl for example, who are you to tell them they are wrong?

If my child says, "But that person doesn’t look like a boy," I just let them know: That’s what this boy looks like.

If my child asks, "What a person really is," I just let them know: They are the person they say they are. Done.

3. Navigating pronouns is tricky.

Our language makes it difficult to leave gender out of the equation. Thankfully, first-person pronouns are gender-neutral, so you can tell your children that they can use those when speaking directly to a person.

If they are referring to someone, and they are unclear about which pronoun to use, let them know they can just ask the person. Letting young people know that there is no shame in clarity goes a long way in recognizing that there is no shame in not necessarily being able to place someone in one of the two narrowly defined gender categories.

If asking is off the table for whatever reason, let your child know they can use "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. Maybe this will become the norm, or maybe language will change when attitudes shift, but this works for now.

4. It's important to validate all choices.

These conversations may leave your kids wondering if they need to put more thought into what their gender is. And maybe they do, but maybe they don’t. If this is a concern, you have opened up a nice door for them to walk through and have a conversation. But if they feel like the gender they were assigned at birth feels good to them and they want to be that gender and use those pronouns, that is certainly a valid choice, too.

It is important to let our kids know that people with gender differences often deal with a lot of hate and rejection. It's important to be a good friend and ally to them.

5. Encourage understanding, always.

Children may not be able to make sense of this. They may ask challenging questions like "Why can’t she just be a girl who likes boy clothes? Why change?" or "How can you not feel like what you are? I don’t get it."

Those are real questions that may be difficult for you to answer, especially if you are someone who identifies with your assigned gender or have never known another person who thinks differently about gender. Still, encourage kids to explore. Ask questions to those who feel comfortable answering them. Read books like "The Sissy Duckling." Find stories from real people relating their experiences.

Because ultimately, there is one very important message to send:

You don’t have to understand another person’s heart to honor and respect them. That is what we need more of in this world.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."